When referring to supply chain resilience, the causes of disruption vary widely in scale and emphasize the unpredictability and severity of the events. We know transportation plays an important role in the supply chain – it’s the line in a flow diagram between the little buildings and smoke stacks – and transportation disruptions happen on a daily basis. Some of the strategies companies use to minimize the impacts of hurricanes and floods on their supply chain can be applied to transportation disruptions as well.
The ability to oversee the activities and events associated with your shipments is the first step. This can come in several ways, such as electronic updates from your partners or reports provided by your own transportation team, which presents several challenges.
First, it is a lot of data. The data gained is often too much on its own to be worthwhile. The key is to find data points, or the lack thereof, within this stream that can act as predictors to disruptions. For example, you know that having a carrier schedule an appointment with your customer 24 hours prior to delivery is essential to achieving on-time delivery. If you could receive an alert at that checkpoint, it would enable you to reach out to the carrier and ensure the appointment is made.
Second, poor data timeliness prevents you from having a real-time view into what is happening. Providing your partners with interfaces that can accommodate the different levels of technical sophistication within your transportation network can make it much easier to provide the data necessary.
As resilience strategies are formed, you will need to develop policies and procedures to avoid and respond to disruptions. Employing and enforcing these procedures within the transportation team is critical so that you can share and build upon these learnings. Once these are put in place and adhered to, changes in procedures can happen at a central point and are easier to deploy.
A routing guide is a product of much research and data analysis, and it can ensure that the interaction between your transportation team and carriers is consistent. If a change occurs within the network, such as a capacity shortage in a lane for a specific carrier, you can make an adjustment to the routing guide, which could prevent a potential disruption.
As mentioned before, the transportation managed by your team is a link within a much larger supply chain comprised of your business partners. In a world where service level is increasingly becoming the differentiator of great supply chains, being able to work effectively with partners to set expectations and provide feedback in a consistent manner will allow you to establish a relationship that benefits both parties.
Transportation disruptions will occur, and even with the best strategies in place, they will sometimes adversely impact your customer. But if your team recognizes a transportation issue, they can provide an early warning to the next partner in the supply chain. By cultivating honest relationships with partners, you can inform them of disruptions and give them the best possible chance to successfully react.
Agility is defined as “the power of moving quickly and easily” or “the ability to think and draw conclusions quickly.” Effective responses to disruptions require an ability to make quick decisions and implement a plan with confidence. Agility can allow an organization to avoid an issue altogether or minimize the effect of a disruption.
Once a decision is made and a plan is formed, executing that plan by engaging the transportation team, as well as supply chain partners, will determine its ultimate success.
The Business Continuity Institute’s 2013 survey on supply chain resilience found that 58% of its respondents attributed supply chain disruptions to their transport network, with about 10% of those disruptions being classified as high impact.
At the heart of these strategies is a transportation management system that allows you to employ and maintain the mechanisms of resilience. A TMS enables the collection of data from your supply chain through integration with data sources and interfaces that are available to your partners. It acts as a communication hub within your network to all of your partners to keep them apprised of a situation and aid in the ability to maintain their business continuity. It enables you to define operating procedures that enforce a consistent process for managing transportation and setting expectations. Finally, through all of these features, it gives your transportation team the ability to quickly and confidently execute their strategies to bounce back from a disruption.
Josh Hunt is the Director of Product Management and Integration Services at LeanLogistics where he is responsible for direction of the product and coordinates electronic data integration with LeanTMS customers. Josh has been with LeanLogistics since 1999, where he started as a software developer building and designing the first SaaS transportation management system, constructing the framework for data integration with LeanTMS in a cloud environment and working to successfully implement over 100 customers. When not solving transportation issues, Josh enjoys spending time on the golf course perfecting his game.